Featured Research

from universities, journals, and other organizations

Critical gene in retinal development and motion sensing identified

Date:
October 31, 2013
Source:
Johns Hopkins Medicine
Summary:
Our vision depends on exquisitely organized layers of cells within the eye’s retina, each with a distinct role in perception. Researchers say they have taken an important step toward understanding how those cells are organized to produce what the brain “sees.” Specifically, they report identification of a gene that guides the separation of two types of motion-sensing cells, offering insight into how cellular layering develops in the retina, with possible implications for the brain’s cerebral cortex.

Our vision depends on exquisitely organized layers of cells within the eye's retina, each with a distinct role in perception. Johns Hopkins researchers say they have taken an important step toward understanding how those cells are organized to produce what the brain "sees." Specifically, they report identification of a gene that guides the separation of two types of motion-sensing cells, offering insight into how cellular layering develops in the retina, with possible implications for the brain's cerebral cortex.

A report on the discovery is published in the Nov. 1 issue of the journal Science.

"The separation of different types of cells into layers is critical to their ability to form the precise sets of connections with each other -- the circuitry -- that lets us process visual information," says Alex Kolodkin, Ph.D., a professor in the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine's Solomon H. Snyder Department of Neuroscience and an investigator at the Howard Hughes Medical Institute. "There is still much to learn about how that separation happens during development, but we've identified for the first time proteins that enable two very similar types of cells to segregate into their own distinct neuronal layers."

Kolodkin's research group specializes in studying how circuitry forms among neurons (brain and nerve cells). Past experiments revealed that two types of proteins, called semaphorins and plexins, help guide this process. In the current study, Lu Sun, a graduate student in Kolodkin's laboratory, focused on the genes that carry the blueprint for these proteins in two of the 10 layers of cells in the mammalian retina.

Those two layers are made up of so-called starburst amacrine cells (SACs). One type of SAC, known as "Off," detects motion by sensing decreases in the amount of light hitting the retina, while the other type, "On," detects increases in light. Sun examined the amounts of several semaphorin and plexin proteins being made by each type of cell, and found that only the "On" SACs were making a semaphorin called Sema6A. Sema6A can only work in the retina by interacting with its receptor, a plexin called PlexA2, but Sun found both types of SAC were churning out roughly equal amounts of PlexA2.

Reasoning that Sema6A might be the key difference that enabled the "On" and "Off" SACs to segregate from one another, Kolodkin's team analyzed mice in which the genes for either Sema6A, PlexA2 or both could be switched off, and looked at the effects of this manipulation on their retinas. "Knocking out" either gene during development led the "On" and "Off" layers to run together, the team found, and caused abnormalities in the "On" SACs' tree-like extensions. However, the "Off" SACs, which hadn't been using their Sema6A gene in the first place, still looked and functioned normally.

"When signaling between Sema6A and PlexA2 was lost, not only was layering compromised, but the 'On' SACs lost both their distinctive symmetrical appearance, and, importantly, their motion-detecting ability," Sun says. "This is evidence that the beautiful symmetric shape that gives starburst amacrine cells their name is necessary for their function."

Adds Kolodkin, "We hope that learning how layering occurs in these very specific cell types will help us begin sorting out how connections are made not just in the retina, but also in neurons throughout the nervous system. Layering also occurs in the cerebral cortex, for example, which is responsible for thought and consciousness, and we really want to know how this is organized during neural development."

Other authors on the report are Zheng Jiang, Randal Hand, Colleen M. Brady, Ryota L. Matsuoka and King-Wai Yau of the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine, and Michal Rivlin-Etzion and Marla B. Feller of the University of California, Berkeley.

This work was supported by the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke (grant number NS35165), the National Eye Institute (grant numbers EY06837, EY019498 and EY013528), the Human Frontier Science Program, the Weizmann Institute's National Postdoctoral Award Program for Advancing Women in Science, and the Edmond and Lily Safra (ELSC) Fellowship for Postdoctoral Training in Brain Science.


Story Source:

The above story is based on materials provided by Johns Hopkins Medicine. Note: Materials may be edited for content and length.


Journal Reference:

  1. L. O. Sun, Z. Jiang, M. Rivlin-Etzion, R. Hand, C. M. Brady, R. L. Matsuoka, K.-W. Yau, M. B. Feller, A. L. Kolodkin. On and Off Retinal Circuit Assembly by Divergent Molecular Mechanisms. Science, 2013; 342 (6158): 1241974 DOI: 10.1126/science.1241974

Cite This Page:

Johns Hopkins Medicine. "Critical gene in retinal development and motion sensing identified." ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 31 October 2013. <www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2013/10/131031142652.htm>.
Johns Hopkins Medicine. (2013, October 31). Critical gene in retinal development and motion sensing identified. ScienceDaily. Retrieved July 31, 2014 from www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2013/10/131031142652.htm
Johns Hopkins Medicine. "Critical gene in retinal development and motion sensing identified." ScienceDaily. www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2013/10/131031142652.htm (accessed July 31, 2014).

Share This




More Health & Medicine News

Thursday, July 31, 2014

Featured Research

from universities, journals, and other organizations


Featured Videos

from AP, Reuters, AFP, and other news services

Dangerous Bacteria Kills One in Florida

Dangerous Bacteria Kills One in Florida

AP (July 31, 2014) Sarasota County, Florida health officials have issued a warning against eating raw oysters and exposing open wounds to coastal and inland waters after a dangerous bacteria killed one person and made another sick. (July 31) Video provided by AP
Powered by NewsLook.com
Health Insurers' Profits Slide

Health Insurers' Profits Slide

Reuters - Business Video Online (July 30, 2014) Obamacare-related costs were said to be behind the profit plunge at Wellpoint and Humana, but Wellpoint sees the new exchanges boosting its earnings for the full year. Fred Katayama reports. Video provided by Reuters
Powered by NewsLook.com
Peace Corps Pulls Workers From W. Africa Over Ebola Fears

Peace Corps Pulls Workers From W. Africa Over Ebola Fears

Newsy (July 30, 2014) The Peace Corps is one of several U.S.-based organizations to pull workers out of West Africa because of the Ebola outbreak. Video provided by Newsy
Powered by NewsLook.com
Weather Kills 2K A Year, But Storms Aren't The Main Offender

Weather Kills 2K A Year, But Storms Aren't The Main Offender

Newsy (July 30, 2014) Health officials say 2,000 deaths occur each year in the U.S. due to weather, but it's excessive heat and cold that claim the most lives. Video provided by Newsy
Powered by NewsLook.com

Search ScienceDaily

Number of stories in archives: 140,361

Find with keyword(s):
Enter a keyword or phrase to search ScienceDaily for related topics and research stories.

Save/Print:
Share:

Breaking News:
from the past week

In Other News

... from NewsDaily.com

Science News

Health News

    Environment News

    Technology News



      Save/Print:
      Share:

      Free Subscriptions


      Get the latest science news with ScienceDaily's free email newsletters, updated daily and weekly. Or view hourly updated newsfeeds in your RSS reader:

      Get Social & Mobile


      Keep up to date with the latest news from ScienceDaily via social networks and mobile apps:

      Have Feedback?


      Tell us what you think of ScienceDaily -- we welcome both positive and negative comments. Have any problems using the site? Questions?
      Mobile: iPhone Android Web
      Follow: Facebook Twitter Google+
      Subscribe: RSS Feeds Email Newsletters
      Latest Headlines Health & Medicine Mind & Brain Space & Time Matter & Energy Computers & Math Plants & Animals Earth & Climate Fossils & Ruins